Editor’s Note: To market, to market we go; although, we aren’t talking about the stock market (cause math, blech!). We are talking about all the food markets that are popping up before our very eyes all around New Orleans. From Roux Carre and Pythian to Auction House and Dryades, we will be your designated tasters. Each of us has a $20 budget, and we can’t overlap choices. That’s four perspectives for each market (and we said we didn’t like math). Today, the new Pythian Market in the CBD.
What: Pythian Market
Where: 234 Loyola Avenue
Pythian Market on the edge of the CBD flies all the right colors of New Orleans: history, diversity, secret societies, jazz, etc. It’s a melting pot not only of cuisines, but also of all the cultural elements that make this city so flavorful.
The back story: The Colored Knights of Pythias of Louisiana, formed in 1880, built the imposing edifice in 1908, under the direction of the order’s Grand Chancellor, a self-made millionaire and former slave named S.W. Green. It quickly became a gathering point for the city’s African-American community, hosting not only businesses and organizations, but also boasting a theater, barbershop, opera house and rooftop garden with live jazz. In 1941 the building was sold to Higgins Industries, maker of the famed D-Day landing crafts. Over the next decades, it went on to house a court, bank and medical center. It flooded in Hurricane Katrina and was afterward gutted.
Today the mixed-used building, its façade restored to its original 1908 appearance, houses 69 apartments, offices and, of course, the Pythian Market. Local artist Brandan “B-Mike” Odums painted the mural of Civil Rights leaders A.P. Tureaud and his wife, Lucille Dejoie, who met on the rooftop here in the 1920s.
The front story: Pythian Market is urban, inviting and hip. Think lofty ceilings, old brick walls, sleek wooden surfaces and floor to ceiling windows. It meanders from here to there, offering niches front and back, left and right, perfect for intimate retreat or more lively group socializing. It throbs loudest at lunchtime and happy hour (4:00 to 7:00 PM), offering a bright respite for urban workers, shoppers, or families looking to de-stress. Its website calls it a “food hall for all,” and it really is. Laptop plug-ins abound and the wi-fi is free. It seems more kid-friendly than other local markets.
“It’s a nice concept for New Orleans because it’s such a food-centric city,” says assistant general manager Faith Akgun. “Here there’s a real sampling of so many kinds of foods.”
As the city’s newest food hall – its doors opened May 31 – Pythian Market is still growing. Currently, more than a dozen vendors purvey everything from barbecue to lobster rolls, shrimp and grits to poke bowls, with more offerings on the way. On the day we visited, Little Fig, a new urban outreach of 1000 Figs in Mid-City, was making final touches for a next-day opening. Here’s what our $20 bought for our team of tasters.
Stall: 14 Parishes, an urban outpost of a family-run Central City joint that dishes up Jamaican classics
Dish: Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas and Callalou
Why I got it: Jamaican dishes are almost always under the radar, but guaranteed goodness. I was debating between the Jerk Chicken and the Oxtails, and when I asked the man behind the counter for his opinion, he replied, “Mondays are for Jerk Chicken.”
Thoughts: Spicy and blackened chicken coated in barbecue sauce is our WINNER for best international dish. Callalou is a leafy green that’s cooked a bit like spinach. We’re coming back for those oxtails steeped in brown gravy.
Stall: Meribo Pizza, the name coined by combining two Italian words: Meridionale (southern) and Cibo (food). The owners say they like to think that if an Italian chef was dropped off in south Louisiana, this is the type of food they would cook.
Dish: Ham and cheese pizza and crispy Brussels sprouts, both recommended from behind the counter.
Why I Got It: Because pizza is such an under-rated dish. And I love Brussels sprouts.
Thoughts: Crispy, thin crust, baked in a wood-fired oven – what’s not to like? And that French-style crumbled toasted pecan dusting – well, yes. This one is definitely WINNER of our Best Comfort Food award; one of our four tasters deemed it the best pizza in the city. The Brussels sprouts are an embarrassment of riches: cheese and a savory sauce heaped into a paper carton. Rich, filling, easy to make a meal of. A WINNER all on its own.
Stall: Squeezed, which, well, squeezes fresh things for drinks and bites
Dish: Coco Chanel, a smoothie made from coffee, avocado, banana, dates, cocoa powder, and coconut milk. And an acai bowl layered with strawberries and blueberries.
Why I Got It: I was looking for healthy vegan options, and something light after a full day of tastings.
Thoughts: The acai bowl makes for a good palette cleanser – very refreshing. And WINNER of Most Beautiful dish, with its colorful layering. CocoChanel brings a unique flavor intensity to the smoothie genre.
Stall: La Cocinita, an offshoot of the popular local foodtruck La Cocinita serving contemporary Venezuelan-inspired Latin American street food.
Dish: Churros, dusted with cinnamon sugar and topped with chocolate sauce
Why I got it: I was looking for a small treat to cap off the meal, and churros fit the bill.
Thoughts: This is quintessential walking-around fair food. Except, that chocolate sauce? Great lagniappe. I resisted the craft cocktail bar (Bar 1908). But those frozen drinks …
Stall: Cru, a raw and bubble (i.e. champagne) bar whose only brick and mortar location is in Pythian Market. Fresh oysters from around the country join the local variety, while savory bites incorporate a variety of creatures from the briny deep.
Dish: Lobster Roll
Why We Got It: A splurge with leftover cash from our tasting spree. And because we’ve never seen a lobster roll in New Orleans.
Thoughts: We may be a couple of thousand miles from the Eastern Shore, but you wouldn’t know it from these fat rolls packed with lobster meat. It’s a culinary curiosity here, and it’s a little pricey ($16), but we’re always happy to incorporate new seafoods into the local menu. Oh, and happy hour raw oysters are $1.